Angie (coiro) Thu 13 Jul 06 11:14
To Ed's question: The character traits that help me balance an interview are the Patient Polite Good Girl, who lets people finish their sentences and is loathe to interrupt; and the impatient, MTV-attention-span listener, who wants to be informed but not bored (I switch channels constantly in the car). They temper each other. When I was younger, I was too much of a people-pleaser. I constantly monitored the impressions I seemed to be making on others, and adjusted accordingly. As an adult, I recognize those (fading) urges and arrest them. Ironically, though, I think that long-time habit taught me skills I still use on the air. I can have a conversation while simultaneously hearing how it sounds to the listener - one step removed, if you will. In my mind, the listener is much like me - wants to learn, but doesn't want to be droned at, or wait while time is wasted. So I listen to the guest FOR the listener. When repetition starts, or the guest meanders off the point at hand, a checklist kicks in for me mentally: is this a valuable repetition, with new nuances, or a mere restating? Is this an interesting, unexpected tangent I'm hearing, with potential for great storytelling, or is it just drift, eating time better spent off-topic? And as to balancing the guests - I want all the guests to be comfortable, and I want them to feel valued. Nonetheless, if a guest early on proves to be too dominant, or not much of a contributer (the "yes" and "no" type who adds not much more), I'll quickly adjust. The dominant person makes me aware I need to prompt the other guests into equal participation. The yes/no/blank stare one drops to a lower percentage of the questions, and I need to seek opportunities for questions I suspect will bring more out of that person. I do miss phone calls! - they were a fun part of the job, and we don't take them in the MoJo format. How I handled them grew out of how I heard other hosts doing the same job. One host I worked with in Honolulu was marvelous at putting the callers at ease. He started with a low, reassuring, "C'mon in here ... ", like a lodge owner drawing a guest toward the warm fire. Others clearly used guests as props. To me, you can't deny that they're people, that they deserve respect. But just like the main guests, I can't sacrifice the show quality for all the listeners out of concern for each callers desires and feelings. Like everything else, it's a balancing act. I think the thing that's served me best - the one thing I've been complimented on most consistently, since I got into the interview biz - is that I understand I'm not the show. If I'm doing my job right, the topic is the show. The guests, the callers, and I are all in position to examine the topic and bring clarity to the audience. It's never been "The Angie Coiro Show". The day I forget that, the most beloved people in my life are instructed to slap me upside the head.
Angie (coiro) Thu 13 Jul 06 11:15
Gail slipped. Hey, you want awkward? Open a show on silent movie scoring with a pounding, searing excerpt from a Lon Cheney flick, ask the composer how he came up with it, and hear him say, "Well, I don't know, I didn't write that. I'm not sure who wrote that." Ouch. Ouch ouch ouch.
Gail Williams (gail) Thu 13 Jul 06 11:20
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Thu 13 Jul 06 11:38
What resources have you used to learn how to interview? eg. I really enjoyed Poison Penmanship, by Jessica Mitford, that had a bunch of her techniques. Or did you come up with it all on your own?
Berliner (captward) Thu 13 Jul 06 11:43
That's Lon Chaney, not Cheney. I can, however, see how you could get confused. You know, radio is a more radical medium than some people probably realize. I know it was hellishly hard for me, at first, to write in a way that was suitable for radio: you can't go back and read that last paragraph or check the lead to see what that guy's name was again. What other adjustments did you have to make for live radio that perhaps the listener might not perceive?
Public persona (jmcarlin) Thu 13 Jul 06 15:02
> I do miss phone calls! - they were a fun part of the job,... I know a lot of people like them, but most of the time I don't except for specialized talk radio like legal/medical. There are occasional insightful questions or points, but too often the callers are much less clueful than the main interviewer.
Angie (coiro) Thu 13 Jul 06 16:43
Sharon, everything I know about interviewing I learned from listening to and watching others (I do live, onstage interviews as well, so the visual stuff matters.) You don't want to be in the room with me when there's a talk show on the radio! I'm talking back to it constantly, chiding or applauding the host. It's a running monologue, and it's fun, but it's also the serious business of listening. Early on, I did what lots of public radio people do: I inadvertently mimicked other successful interviewers. I'm neither Terry Gross nor Michael Krasny (local guy who hosts Forum at KQED), but I was on public radio doing Friday Forum, and hadn't developed my own sound. But you can't keep that up forever, and I grew the confidence to sound more like myself. I'm sure there are vestiges of other people's work in my style, but I probably couldn't tease them out at this point.
Jacques Leslie (jacques) Thu 13 Jul 06 16:46
Angie, I'm curious about your outlook came to embrace progressive Mother Jones-style politics. South Bend, for instance, doesn't strike me as a hot bed of liberalism.
Angie (coiro) Thu 13 Jul 06 16:54
Which leads me to Ed's question - writing for radio. Let me separate the two elements in your question: the writing itself, and the "live" factor. I'm chatty by nature. (Did you all pick that up by now?) I love words, and I use too many of them. First at Forum, then even more so in the commercial, fast-paced format of MJR, I've had to learn to streamline like crazy. Write a show intro or guest intro, or a backannounce with a tease, then strip it down, strip it down, strip it down. I'm actually more competent in a live format, making fewer mistakes and hitting the time cues more accurately. Live radio's "sink or swim" energy is so invigorating! You *have* to get it right, you've only got the one chance. I find that pushes me to a higher energy level and better performance. Taped, I'll drop out midway to say, "Oh, damn, what's the name of the book again?" Live, the adrenaline is more likely to bring the name to my mind as needed. Doesn't always work that way, of course. Once in midshow I lost the thread of a question, and the guest helpfully finished the question, then answered it. Don'tcha just love middle age? The other key adjustment going live: as everyone inside the Well knows, I've got a raunchy sense of humor and the mouth of a sailor. I'm on constant alert to behave myself!
Angie (coiro) Thu 13 Jul 06 17:00
Ladies and gentleman, it's Jacques Leslie, my closing guest on this week's show! Hi, guy! First a quick thought to Jerry: you have so much company. My husband, for one, will stay with an interview program right up to the host saying "Let's go to the phones," and he's out of there like a shot. I'm of mixed perspective on that. As a listener, I'll give callers more of a chance. But I've got no patience with droners or conspiracy nuts. That sends me down the dial, too. A good producer/screener and some host skill with callers saves the audience a lot of grief that way. But there's no perfect formula, and rare is the show that doesn't have at least one clunker of a caller. Sadly, many potential callers have something solid to contribute. Personal knowledge, tech know-how, interesting history that, properly packaged, could make good radio. But not all of us tell our stories well, and not all of us are easy on the ears. The caller needs at least some verbal skill to engage us with the substance of the call.
Angie (coiro) Thu 13 Jul 06 17:19
Jacques, our family was likely the only one in South Bend to have Mother Jones in the house from its debut issue. One of my sisters, whom I've adored since the day I was born, somehow knew there was more out there than the local political mentality, and brought it home. Because of her, I knew who Ralph Nader was and why he mattered. The Whole Earth catalogue was there, courtesy of Tina. She had a pragmatic and fearless response to some of the crap loaded on us by the Church. Although it took years to manifest, I credit her with my developing political skepticism and a proudly liberal point of view. When my colleague mentioned MJ was looking for a show host, I can't tell you what the thrill was like. This was meant for ME. Even two years earlier, I may have been much more leery of jumping to an experimental show on a relatively new network. Although I never became a full employee at KQED News and Public Affairs (I was a "temporary employee" for more than ten years), there was one reliable day of work a week to be had. But the political tenor in the country had changed so badly. Stephen Colbert nailed it when he "agreed" with the president that "truth has a liberal bias". At the risk of overstating it, I felt I could do more for my country aligning myself with respected, progressive journalists, leaving behind the painful care not to offend that had at least temporarily taken hold at public radio. I left when Ken Tomlinson was at the peak of his influence. All of that said - Tomlinson is gone, and I'm still a supporter of public broadcasting in every sense. Well, okay, not in the sense of appreciating the pledge specials, but that aside - it's still the best thing we've got on the air, and I listen to it constantly. But radio that's more activist is right for me at this stage in my life.
Angie (coiro) Thu 13 Jul 06 17:28
Here's a link to Jacques' story in the current MJMagazine, the one we'll be discussing this week. <http://www.motherjones.com/news/hellraiser/2006/07/over_her_dead_body.html>
Pat Adams (scarlet) Thu 13 Jul 06 19:20
Thanks for taking that leap of faith, Angie
Angie (coiro) Thu 13 Jul 06 20:00
That's very kind, Pat, thank you. I'm fortunate to have been in the position to do it. My husband's employment gives me the freedom to risk, which is rare in my business.
Don Mussell (dmsml) Thu 13 Jul 06 20:57
It's been good for all of us, I think.
Jacques Leslie (jacques) Thu 13 Jul 06 22:18
Angie, one of the things I've appreciated about listening to you is that your questions are clear and concise, and once you ask them, you get out of the way for the interviewee. I was a little surprised just now to read that you find you must constantly streamline, because it sounds effortless on the air. And I hasten to add that in my just-concluded brief experience as interview subject, I had the same feeling.
Jacques Leslie (jacques) Thu 13 Jul 06 22:19
And thank you for posting the link to the Medha Patkar story!
Berliner (captward) Fri 14 Jul 06 01:37
Yeah, Angie, I'll follow up on Jacques here: how much editing do you do on the MJ show? It sounds like it just bangs along, but how tightly do you snip here and there to get that effect. I know Terry Gross edits her interviews tightly; do you sometimes re-do your voice on a question, or is it just a matter of snipping the uhs and ahs and y'knows from your subject's stream of conversation?
FROM PETER CROSS (davadam) Fri 14 Jul 06 08:30
Peter Cross writes: Something I find rather nonsensical about the broadcast media is its near-universal pattern of updating the market indices frequently. I find it hard to imagine that any significant part of the population uses this information at such update intervals--very likely those who are in the business of responding instantly to changes pay for an online service these days. Jim Lehrer, in a manner I find bizarre, will use EXACTLY the same tone of voice, emphasis, and so on to announce a 200 point dive in the Dow, as a 1 point drop. Most other announcers follow a similar pattern. Further, the Dow is not an average, though that is its trademark name. And no other significant indices are mentioned--the world violence index, the hours wasted in traffic index, the beaten wives index, the abused children index, the church-attendance index, the satisfaction at work index, the depression index, the teen suicide index, or the 50-years-ahead human livability index. These are far more important to ME than an obscure glimpse of how stock-and-bond gamblers are feeling in the past hour. So, time used times number of listeners, an unbelievable amount of human attention essentially wasted. Peter Cross, Belmont, CA
Berliner (captward) Fri 14 Jul 06 09:10
Incidentally, this isn't about Angie, but my piece on Aretha Franklin's singing sisters is on Fresh Air today, and people who are interested in how writing for radio is different from writing for print might want to listen to it with that in mind. Fortunately, when I record one of those things I get a lot of re-takes if I need 'em!
Angie (coiro) Fri 14 Jul 06 09:40
The coincidence already made me smile. I'm sitting here listening to FA, enjoying Robert Downey and awaiting your piece. First to Peter in Belmont (sounds just like I'm going to the phones, doesn't it?) - I've never given much thought to time spent on the market indices. I know it's of use to some segment of the audience, like traffic reports that non-drivers sit through, or sport scores that people like me couldn't car less about. And I'll tell you why I can't get too worked up about it. It's dwarfed by the much less relevant, much more harmful "news" about Michael Jackson, runaway brides, and stupid bank robber stories. I remember ABC News leading with a Jackson story last year, the day a small group of US soldiers was blown to bits in their vehicle outside Fallujah. Like so much news coverage, it brought to mind the terrible and accurate phrase, "entertaining ourselves to death". Were I to be given the power to hack away at useless news time hogs, market indices would be pretty far down the list. On the other hand, emphasis on the markets and business is indicative to me of the skew toward corporate and money interests in American news coverage. More of us are laborers than will ever be stockholders. Where's the labor coverage? We hear union stories only during times of strife, while management is covered every day in - as you note - neutral, non-judgmental tones. I sense a soapbox growing under my feet, so I'll move on to earlier questions.
Angie (coiro) Fri 14 Jul 06 09:56
Thanks for the kind words, Jacques. Despite them - oh, yes, I'm still quite capable of coming out with a forty-second, multi-layer question. Believe me! Ed, the editing process varies widely from piece to piece. Sometimes it's just a matter of cleaning up "ums" and throat clearings. On the other end of the spectrum, we'll sometimes record up to twenty minutes or so, knowing that we'll run the whole thing as an "internet extra", linked from our radio page. Thus we'll pick out eight to ten minutes of highlights, heavily edited for time and continuity, for the show segment itself. Sometimes I'll ask a followup question that provokes exactly the same answer I was following up on. The guest just didn't get what I was asking (which is as often as not the fault of how I phrased it). So we give it another go, and toss out the first answer in the editing process. I came to the editing process as a bit of a purist. "That's not exactly what we said! Roll it, warts and all!" That loses sight of the fact that radio is in part entertainment. Audiences don't need or want to sit through fractured thoughts and extended dead air in an AM, commercial format. Those beautiful, pensive silences that Terry Gross can allow her guests in her format need to be sacrificed in ours. That's not to say we always edit those out, by the way, when they're a relevant part of the answer. When David Horowitz joined us to debate one of his "most dangerous academics in America", there was much hemming and hawing, and several false starts, before he admitted the chapter on this particular academic was written by someone he'd never met (and, by implication, couldn't vouch for).
Angie (coiro) Fri 14 Jul 06 10:02
I'll tell you one thing that strikes me again and again about modern editing: in the wrong hands, it can be so dangerous. In that particular debate, we could have done any number of things to make Horowitz sound worse and the professor sound smarter and snappier. Digital editing can insert a "not" into the phrase "it's true" so seamlessly the casual listener would never pick up the manipulation. On a less sinister level, with every show you have to question all your edits. Yes, I'll rerecord a question to improve the flow. Is it an honest representation of the original question and answer? Is my goal just to make me sound better and less scattered? Or genuinely in service of the show and the audience? Fortunately, Katrina and I are clearly on the same page on intellectual and editorial honesty. Here's an entertaining and illuminating look at the editing process from one of my all-time favorite shows, NPR's On the Media. I promise it's worth your time, even if you're downloading on a dial-up. <http://onthemedia.org/transcripts/transcripts_123104_curtain.html>
Berliner (captward) Fri 14 Jul 06 10:10
Maybe the insidiousness of digital editing is why Fresh Air still uses tape?
Angie (coiro) Fri 14 Jul 06 10:13
Are you kidding? I had no idea!
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